BY BEN MURRAY BRUCE
In a country of 175 million people where over 100 million people are youths, the most important ministry is not the ministry of finance or the ministry of petroleum. It is the ministry of youths!
Nigeria has spent decades living off the minerals under her ground, especially oil, and we as a nation have forgotten that the most valuable resource we have are our people and especially our youth.
Nigeria is still operating under a colonial-era mentality whereby minerals, raw materials and cash crops are regarded as assets and people are regarded as liabilities.
This is why Nigerian leaders misunderstand the term employment. Employment refers to being occupied. It involves utilizing ones mental and physical energies in a rewarding manner.
In practical terms, it is impossible to immediately provide paid employment for all our youths in the short term.
There is a law of process involved in achieving that aim.
However, we can and we should provide our youths other activities through which they can positively employ their mental and physical energies.
Sports is one of those activities. We have stadia that lie fallow all over Nigeria. Until recently, the national stadium in Abuja was overgrown with weeds as are other stadia.
The ministry of youths should collaborate with the ministry of sports to throw them open and encourage youths to utilize the facilities.
Our stadia and sports facilities should not only be used to host the very occasional football games. They should be used to positively employ the minds and bodies of our youth in positive activities.
With only a small amount of money we can keep these facilities running and available to our youth. The devil finds work for idle hands. If we keep
Our youths positively employed, they will not be armed robbers, Boko Haram terrorist or area boys.
And Nigeria as a country has been making efforts to make one people out of many people. Unity has been a recurring challenge as many Nigerians cling to primordial and regional sentiments over national sentiments.
What can unite a country better than sports? Who can unite a country better than youths?
Nigeria is at its most united state when we are playing a game of soccer against another country or competing in an athletic meet with other nations.
Since we know that, let us use sports and games to both unite the nation and redirect the energy of our youth towards something positive.
Nigeria needs to prioritize the ministry of youths. Quality brains should be appointed and employed as minister, Permanent Secretary and directors. These should be people with ideas, who know the value of recreation as a means of engendering productivity in our young people.
President Muhammadu Buhari has repeatedly said he wants to create employment for our youth.
We can create employment through sports.
The ministry of sports must remake itself from being a ministry of football to a ministry that impacts Nigeria.
As a former Director General of the Nigerian Television Authority, I know that sophisticated cameras, that can shoot underwater and in high altitudes, were bought for the 2003 All Africa Games in Abuja. There were others that were also bought for the 1999 FIFA World Youth Championship (U-20 World Cup) which held in Nigeria.
NTA has cameras and equipment that can be used to cover every Olympic sport. NTA also has outside broadcasting vans. We do not have to limit ourselves to going to the Olympics and the All Africa Games every four years.
We can institute a national sporting event to occupy our youths and also identify talents. In the past we used to have Mobil Track and Field events every year, but ever since ExxonMobil pulled out in 2011, we have not been able to replicate a national track and field event of such a magnitude.
The ministry of sports has all that is required to revive that event even without private sponsorship. As a matter of fact, if you revive it, the private sponsors will come.
Nigeria can project her greatness via sport, but we are short changing ourselves if we do not invest in sports as a way to channel the creative energies of our youths into positive ventures.
As a child, I idolized Dick Tiger, the first African to win an international boxing title when won the world middleweight boxing championship in 1962.
Dick Tiger was discovered when a British prize fighter came to Nigeria and offered anyone who could knock him out the sum of three guineas. Of course an unknown young man named Richard Ihetu (Dick Tiger’s real name) knocked him out and the rest is history.
If that Briton did not come to Nigeria, Richard Ihetu would never have become Dick Tiger.
I cannot help but wonder how many Dick Tigers we are missing out on every year.
And even in football, the one sport that we have concentrated on, we are not maximizing the opportunities that professional football brings to a country.
In England in 2013, 32% of the population were actively engaged in one way or the other with the English Premiership League. The League itself made a revenue of over £3 Billion in 2013 (that is money the EPL made for itself alone). In 2012, 900,000 foreign fans came to England to attend Barclays Premier League matches and spent £706 Million. 1.5 Billion people watch the English Premiership League worldwide. They buy merchandise from Britain, keeping the British people employed and prosperous. Britain made over £2 Billion in the 2013 by selling overseas broadcasting rights to the EPL.
As an example of how the EPL contributes to job growth, in 2011, when Swansea City was promoted to the EPL, that promotion led to 295 new full time jobs being created in the small town of Swansea, and the promotion attracted tourists who spent £8.13 million in Swansea in that season.
In short, sports and especially football, can generate jobs and boost our Gross Domestic Product if developed.
What is wrong if the President personally goes to watch matches in the Nigeria Premier League? What is wrong if he directs his ministers to do likewise?
Imagine the impact on the popularity and acceptability of the Nigeria Premier League if the public sees the President and top Nigerians at their matches rather than at British Matches? British Prime Minister, David Cameron does it, German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, does it. Why can’t our leaders do it?
It will boost the popularity of the league which will attract sponsors which will attract big broadcasters which will make it international which will attract foreign investments which will create JOBS!
Our youths need jobs and because we are not creating enough job opportunities for them, they are terrorizing us all over the country.
We have to be creative with ideas to lift Nigeria out of the doldrums and launch her into orbit as one of the world’s economic power houses.
Even if we start out now with a plan to compete with the West and the Asian Tigers in the area of technology and manufacturing, it will take us at least one generation to make any meaningful impact, if at all.
But we have areas of comparative advantage as a nation and if we focus on those areas, we can reach and surpass what has been done in the West and Asia.
One of the areas where we have a comparative advantage is in the motion picture industry.
Nollywood is now the third largest movie industry in the world. The industry has been driven by the raw talent of the Nigerian youth and the grit of largely Idumota based marketers and their international chain.
Nollywood is a youth driven industry. When you support Nollywood, you are giving Nigerian youths an escape that gives them hope and helps them cope with the duality challenges of being a youth in a nation like Nigeria.
Government may think that Nollywood is just entertainment, but they will be very wrong if we think that. No one buys into your industrial and manufacturing complex except they first buy your culture.
Western governments understand this which is why President Obama got personally involved when North Korea threatened Sony Pictures over the movie ‘The Interview’.
Culture projection is the first vital step in winning the hearts and minds of a people. It has been done since time immemorial.
It is the reason the British always sent in their missionaries that propagated their particular Christian denomination in the areas they wanted to colonize. After selling their culture, they then sent in their merchants.
It is the reason Nigerian youths are so crazy about European Premiership Football. We first of all fall in love with European Football and next we start going to Europe on holiday to spend our hard earned cash.
Michael Jackson was the first black artist to be played on MTV and when White America fell in love with him, they bought into Black culture and because they bought into Black culture, Black cultural icons like Jayz, Dr. Dre and P Diddy took it to the next level and became business mogul selling products of black origin to first White America, then the rest of the world. Now, Apple has made Dr. Dre a billionaire by buying ‘Beats by Dr. Dre’ for $3 billion.
What the Buhari administration ought to do, if it is truly interested in creating jobs, is to continue the unprecedented support that industry enjoyed during the Jonathan years.
No other administration in Nigeria’s history supported Nollywood as much as the Jonathan administration. He gave them a grant of 3 Billion Naira to develop capacity and he encouraged them with his presence at their industry wide events.
This helped Nollywood shoot quality movies that can be entered in for international film competitions like the Academy Awards, the Cannes Film Festival and the Montreal Film Festival.
The more visibility Nolywood gets, the more the image of the average Nigerian is rehabilitated. The more the image of Nigeria is rehabilitated, the more the world buys into Nigerian brands like Glo, UBA, Dangote Cement etc.
Going forward, whoever President Buhari appoints as minister of culture has to work with the President’s protocol people to include Nollywood icons in his entourage when he travels abroad. The minister of Sports has to do the same with sports stars and our international athletes. This will help transfer some of the goodwill and credibility these icons have amassed on both the President and the country.
We just had President Buhari’s inauguration and look who the US sent-John Kerry (the US Secretary of State) and Akeem Olajuwon!
The US was not being sentimental when they chose Akeem. No! He is a US citizen and a well loved sports icon. They know that if he is seen in their official delegation, those who see him will associate the warmth and goodwill they feel for him with America.
If those people are government officials, which they are likely to be, then they become more likely to tilt Nigerian foreign policy towards America.
If they are business leaders, they are more likely to award contracts to American companies and buy American products.
If they are ordinary Nigerians, they are more likely to want to spend their holidays and their hard earned money in America and on American products.
Do we see the multiplier effect?
And finally, together with the minister of information, the minister of culture should be a custodian of our national culture and historical records.
We do not document our leaders and their highs and lows and their successes and failures and as George Santayana said “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”!
That is why we keep repeating the sake mistakes over and over again as a nation.
Nigerians may be surprised to note that if you want to get accurate records of the Nigerian Civil War, of Supreme Military Council activities of leaders that were deposed (eg Buhari’s first regime), of defining moments of Nigeria’s history, you have to go to either the British Broadcasting Corporation, BBC or the British ITV.
What does that say of us as a nation and as a people?
• Bruce is the Chairman of Silverbird Entertainment Group and Senator representing Bayelsa East
This article first appeared on ThisDayLive.com on June 8, 2015.